Alyattes of Lydia

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Alyattes of Lydia
KINGS of LYDIA. Alyattes. Circa 620-10-564-53 BC.jpg
Coin of Alyattes. Circa 620/10-564/53 BCE. [1]
Lydian King
Reignc.618 – c.561 BCE
Predecessor Sadyattes
Successor Croesus
Issue Croesus
Father Sadyattes

Alyattes (Ancient Greek : ἈλυάττηςAluáttēs, likely from Lydian Walwates; reigned c. 618–561 BC), sometimes described as Alyattes I, was the fourth king of the Mermnad dynasty in Lydia, the son of Sadyattes and grandson of Ardys. He died after a reign of 57 years and was succeeded by his son Croesus. [2] [3] A battle between his forces and those of Cyaxares, king of Media, was interrupted by the solar eclipse of 28 May 585 BC. After this, a truce was agreed and Alyattes married his daughter Aryenis to Astyages, the son of Cyaxares. The alliance preserved Lydia for another generation, during which it enjoyed its most brilliant period. [4] Alyattes continued to wage a war against Miletus for many years but eventually he heeded the Delphic Oracle and rebuilt a temple, dedicated to Athena, which his soldiers had destroyed. He then made peace with Miletus. [5]


Alyattes was the first monarch who issued coins, made from electrum (and his successor Croesus was the first to issue gold coins). Alyattes is therefore sometimes mentioned as the originator of coinage, or of currency. [6]

The Greek form Ἀλυάττης is most likely derived from a name with initial digamma, ϝαλυάττης (walwattes), from a Lydian walwet- (Lydian alphabet: 𐤥𐤠𐤩𐤥𐤤𐤯). [7]


Electrum trite, Alyattes, Lydia, 610-560 BCE. (inscribed KUKALI[M] ) Electrum trite, Alyattes II, Lydia, 610-560 BC.jpg
Electrum trite, Alyattes, Lydia, 610-560 BCE. (inscribed KUKALI[M] )

Dates for the Mermnad kings are uncertain and are based on a computation by J. B. Bury and Russell Meiggs (1975) who estimated c.687–c.652 BC for the reign of Gyges. [9] Herodotus gave reign lengths for Gyges' successors, [2] but there is uncertainty about these as the total exceeds the timespan between 652 (probable death of Gyges, fighting the Cimmerians) and 547/546 (fall of Sardis to Cyrus the Great). Bury and Meiggs concluded that Ardys and Sadyattes reigned through an unspecified period in the second half of the 7th century BC, [10] but they did not propose dates for Alyattes except their assertion that his son Croesus succeeded him in 560 BC. The timespan 560–546 BC for the reign of Croesus is almost certainly accurate. [11]


For several years Alyattes continued the war against the Greek colony of Miletus begun by his father Sadyattes, but was obliged to turn his attention towards the Medes and Babylonians. On 28 May 585 BC, during the Battle of Halys fought against Cyaxares, king of Media, a solar eclipse occurred; hostilities were suspended, peace concluded, and the Halys River was fixed as the boundary between the two kingdoms. [12]

Alyattes drove the Cimmerians from Asia Minor, [13] with the help of war dogs. [14] He further subdued the Carians, and took several Ionian cities, including Smyrna and Colophon. Smyrna was sacked and destroyed with its inhabitants forced to move into the countryside. [12]

He created the first coins in history made from electrum, a naturally occurring alloy of gold and silver. The weight of either precious metal could not just be weighed so they contained an imprint that identified the issuer who guaranteed the value of its contents. [15] Today we still use a token currency, where the value is guaranteed by the state and not by the value of the metal used in the coins. [16] Almost all coins used today descended from his invention after the technology passed into Greek usage through Hermodike II - a Greek princess from Cyme who was likely one of his wives (assuming he was referred to a dynastic 'Midas' because of the wealth his coinage amassed and because the electrum was sourced from Midas' famed river Pactolus; she was also likely the mother of Croesus (see croeseid symbolism. He standardised the weight of coins (1 stater = 168 grains of wheat). The coins were produced using an anvil die technique and stamped with a lion's head, the symbol of the Mermnadae. [17]


Section of the tomb of Alyattes. It is "one of the largest tumuli ever built", with a diameter of 360 meters and a height of 61 meters. Alyattes.png
Section of the tomb of Alyattes. It is "one of the largest tumuli ever built", with a diameter of 360 meters and a height of 61 meters.
Tomb of Alyattes, 19th century. Tomb of Alyattes.jpg
Tomb of Alyattes, 19th century.
Tomb of Alyattes today. Bin Tepe, large tumulus.jpg
Tomb of Alyattes today.

Alyattes' tomb still exists on the plateau between Lake Gygaea and the river Hermus to the north of the Lydian capital Sardis a large mound of earth with a substructure of huge stones. (38.5723401, 28.0451151) It was excavated by Spiegelthal in 1854, who found that it covered a large vault of finely cut marble blocks approached by a flat-roofed passage of the same stone from the south. The sarcophagus and its contents had been removed by early plunderers of the tomb. All that was left were some broken alabaster vases, pottery and charcoal. On the summit of the mound were large phalli of stone. [12]

Herodotus described the tomb:

But there is one building to be seen there which is more notable than any, saving those of Egypt and Babylon. There is in Lydia the tomb of Alyattes the father of Croesus, the base whereof is made of great stones and the rest of it of mounded earth. It was built by the men of the market and the artificers and the prostitutes. There remained till my time five corner-stones set on the top of the tomb, and on these was graven the record of the work done by each kind: and measurement showed that the prostitutes' share of the work was the greatest.

Herodotus 1-93. [21]

Some authors have suggested that Buddhist stupas were derived from a wider cultural tradition from the Mediterranean to the Indus valley, and can be related to the funeral conical mounds on circular bases that can be found in Lydia or in Phoenicia from the 8th century BCE, such as the tomb of Alyattes. [22] [23] [24]

Appearance in The Histories

In The Histories , Herodotus recounts how Alyattes continued his father's war against Miletus. According to Herodotus, Sadyattes had invaded Miletus annually to burn their crops over the course of six years. The troops left the horses and houses untouched so that the Milesians could plant a new crop, which the Lydians would then burn the following year. Alyattes did the same over the next five years until the end of the war. [13]

The end came about because of a Lydian fire which, driven out of control by a strong wind, destroyed the temple of Athene at Assesos. Soon afterwards, Alyattes became seriously ill and decided to asked the Delphic Oracle for advice. The priestess refused to answer his emissary until the Lydians had rebuilt the temple. Alyattes immediately sent an embassy to Miletus and agreed a peace treaty. The temple was rebuilt and Alyattes recovered his health. [13]

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Lydia Old Age kingdom of western Asia Minor

Lydia was an Iron Age kingdom of western Asia Minor located generally east of ancient Ionia in the modern western Turkish provinces of Uşak, Manisa and inland İzmir but in history was Greek, certainly at the time we are speaking of. Its capital was Sardis.

Sardis Ancient city at the location of modern Sart, Turkey

Sardis or Sardes was an ancient city at the location of modern Sart, near Salihli, in Turkey's Manisa Province. Sardis was the capital of the ancient kingdom of Lydia, one of the important cities of the Persian Empire, the seat of a Seleucid Satrap, the seat of a proconsul under the Roman Empire, and the metropolis of the province Lydia in later Roman and Byzantine times. As one of the seven churches of Asia, it was addressed by John, the author of the Book of Revelation in the New Testament, in terms which seem to imply that its church members did not finish what they started, that they were about image and not substance. Its importance was due first to its military strength, secondly to its situation on an important highway leading from the interior to the Aegean coast, and thirdly to its commanding the wide and fertile plain of the Hermus.

Electrum Alloy of gold and silver

Electrum is a naturally occurring alloy of gold and silver, with trace amounts of copper and other metals. The ancient Greeks called it "gold" or "white gold", as opposed to "refined gold". Its colour ranges from pale to bright yellow, depending on the proportions of gold and silver. It has been produced artificially, and is also known as "green gold".

Croesus Lydian King

Croesus was the king of Lydia who, according to Herodotus, reigned for 14 years: from 560 BC until his defeat by the Persian king Cyrus the Great in 546 BC.

Gyges of Lydia Biographical record of Gyges, king of Lydia, 7th century BC

Gyges was the founder of the Mermnad dynasty of Lydian kings. The dates of his reign are uncertain but have been tentatively estimated as c. 687 – c. 652 BC. According to Herodotus, he reigned for 38 years. He was a bodyguard of his predecessor Candaules whom he assassinated in order to seize the throne. His action was approved by the Delphic Oracle and that decision prevented civil war in Lydia. Once established on the throne, Gyges devoted himself to consolidating his kingdom and making it a military power.

Sadyattes was the third king of the Mermnad dynasty in Lydia, the son of Ardys. According to Herodotus, he reigned for twelve years. He was succeeded by his son Alyattes. Sadyattes began a war with the Ionian Greek maritime city of Miletus that was continued by Alyattes.

Candaules Bibliographical record of Candaules, last Heraclid king of Libya

Candaules, also known as Myrsilos (Μυρσίλος), was a king of the ancient Kingdom of Lydia in the early years of the 7th century BC. According to Herodotus, he succeeded his father Meles as the 22nd and last king of Lydia's Heraclid dynasty. He was assassinated and succeeded by Gyges.

Cyaxares King of Media

Cyaxares was the third and most capable king of Media, according to Herodotus, with a far greater military reputation than his father Phraortes or grandfather Deioces. He was the first to divide his troops into separate sections of spearmen, archers, and horsemen.


The Lydians were an Anatolian people living in Lydia, a region in western Anatolia, who spoke the distinctive Lydian language, an Indo-European language of the Anatolian group.


Pactolus, now named Sart Çayı, is a river near the Aegean coast of Turkey. The river rises from Mount Tmolus, flows through the ruins of the ancient city of Sardis, and empties into the Gediz River, the ancient Hermus. The Pactolus once contained electrum that was the basis of the economy of the ancient state of Lydia which used the naturally occurring alloy of gold and silver to forge the first coins under Alyattes of Lydia.


Phocaea or Phokaia was an ancient Ionian Greek city on the western coast of Anatolia. Greek colonists from Phocaea founded the colony of Massalia in 600 BC, Emporion in 575 BC and Elea in 540 BC.


Mazares was a Median general who defected to Cyrus the Great when the latter overthrew his grandfather, Astyages and formed the Persian Empire. Mazares is mentioned by Herodotus as a Median general in the service of Cyrus the Great who died while putting down a revolt in Asia Minor.

Battle of the Eclipse

The Battle of the Eclipse or Battle of Halys was fought between the Medes and the Lydians in the early 6th century BC. The result was a draw which led to both parties negotiating a peace treaty and ending a six-year war. According to Herodotus, the appearance of a solar eclipse at the time of battle was interpreted as an omen, and interrupted the battle.

Agron was a legendary king of Lydia who is named by Herodotus as the first of the Lydian Heraclid dynasty. Before he assumed the throne, the ruling family had been the Maeonian line of Lydus, from whom the country's name was derived. According to Herodotus, the Heraclid dynasty in Lydia reigned continuously through 22 generations for 505 years. The last of the line was Candaules, whose date of death was c.687 BC, so Herodotus' computation suggests c.1192 BC for Agron's accession.

Ardys was the second king of the Mermnad dynasty in Lydia, the son of Gyges. According to Herodotus, he reigned for 49 years and was succeeded by his son Sadyattes.

Cyme (Aeolis) Ancient Greek city

Cyme or Cumae was an Aeolian city in Aeolis close to the kingdom of Lydia.

Hermodike II has been attributed with inventing Greek coinage, i.e. the transfer of earlier technical knowledge from Lydia into ancient Greek society through Aeolis by Aristotle. Other historians have translated the name as Hermodice, Damodice or Demodike as translated by Pollux.

Croeseid Lydian coin

The Croeseid, anciently Kroiseioi stateres, was a type of coin, either in gold or silver, which was minted in Sardis by the king of Lydia Croesus from around 550 BCE. Croesus is credited with issuing the first true gold coins with a standardised purity for general circulation, and the world's first bimetallic monetary system.


  1. Weidauer Group XVII, 108 var. Triton XXI (2018) no. 497, auctioned for USD 2750. This particular coin does not bear an inscription, but it is from the same punch as contemporary coins which have the inscription WALWEL. (Classical Numismatics Group).
  2. 1 2 Herodotus & de Sélincourt 1954 , p. 46
  3. "Summary of Herodotus | First Floor Tarpley" . Retrieved 16 November 2020.
  4. Bury & Meiggs 1975 , pp. 142–143
  5. Bury & Meiggs 1975 , p. 143
  6. A. Ramage, "Golden Sardis", King Croesus' Gold: Excavations at Sardis and the History of Gold Refining, edited by A. Ramage and P. Craddock, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 2000, p. 18.
  7. Kadmos 34-35 (1995), 51f. The name WALWET is inscribed on some of the coins of the Artemision deposit. Robert W. Wallace, "KUKALIM, WALWET, and the Artemision Deposit: Problems in Early Anatolian Electrum Coinage: Studies in Money and Exchange" in: Peter G. Van Alfen (ed.) Agoranomia: Studies in Money and Exchange Presented to John H. Kroll, American Numismatic Society (2006) 37–49.
  8. Interpreted as the given name Kukas, equivalent to Gyges, but identification with king Gyges himself is untenable. It is more likely that this "Gyges" was a provincial governor or otherwise in charge of the mint workshop that produced this particular coin. Wallace, “KUKALIṂ”, pl. 1, 1–4 = Weidauer Group XVIII, Triton XV no. 1241 (3 January 2012). Auctioned in 2013 for CHF 25000. (Classical Numismatics Group)
  9. Bury & Meiggs 1975 , pp. 82–83
  10. Bury & Meiggs 1975 , p. 501
  11. Bury & Meiggs 1975 , p. 502
  12. 1 2 3 Chisholm 1911 , p. 776
  13. 1 2 3 Herodotus & de Sélincourt 1954 , pp. 47–48
  14. Polyaenus, 7.2
  15. Harari, Yuval Noah (2015). Sapiens: a Brief History of Humankind. First U.S. Edition: HarperCollins Publishers. p. 182. ISBN   978-0-06-231609-7.
  16. Amelia Dowler, Curator, British Museum; A History of the World;
  17. Mundall, Robert A. (2002). "The birth of coinage". Columbia Academic Commons. doi:10.7916/D8Q531TK.
  18. The Tomb of Atyattes (in French). 1993.
  19. Taylor, Richard P. (2000). Death and the Afterlife: A Cultural Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. p. 381. ISBN   9780874369397.
  20. Fergusson, James. Rude Stone Monuments. pp. 31–32.
  21. Herodotus 1-93
  22. "It is probably traceable to a common cultural inheritance, stretching from the Mediterranean to the Ganges valley, and manifested by the sepulchres, conical mounds of earth on a circular foundation, of about the eighth century B.C. found in Eritrea and Lydia." Rao, P. R. Ramachandra (2002). Amaravati. Youth Advancement, Tourism & Cultural Department Government of Andhra Pradesh. p. 33.
  23. On the hemispherical Phenician tombs of Amrit: Coomaraswamy, Ananda K. (1972). History of Indian and Indonesian art. p.  12.
  24. Commenting on Gisbert Combaz: "In his study L'évolution du stupa en Asie, he even observed that "long before India, the classical Orient was inspired by the shape of the tumulus for constructing its tombs: Phrygia, Lydia, Phenicia ." in Bénisti, Mireille; K, Thanikaimony (2003). Stylistics of Buddhist art in India. Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts. p. 12. ISBN   9788173052415.



Preceded by
King of Lydia
c.591–c.560 BC
Succeeded by